Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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MEIGGS, Henry, contractor, born in Catskill, New York, 7 July, 1811: died in Lima, Peru, 30 September, 1877. He came to New York city about 1835 and engaged in the lumber business. The financial crisis of 1837 caused his failure, but he at once established a new lumber-yard in Williamsburgh, and among' his contracts at that time was the building of St. Mark's church, which he completed. In 1842 he again met with reverses and returned to New York, whence he shipped lumber to the Pacific coast. Subsequently he went to San Francisco with a cargo of lumber, which he sold for twenty times its cost. He soon built a fleet of sloops and schooners, with which he brought lumber from different points on the coast, and employed 500 men in felling trees for a single sawmill on the Bay of San Francisco. In this manner he attained a large fortune. In the financial depression of 1854 he was unable to meet his obligations, and, leaving debts to the amount of $1,000, -000, he fled with his family on one of his schooners, which he had loaded with everything that his residence contained. He then engaged in the building of bridges on the Valparaiso and Santiago road in Chili, and in 1858 contracted with the government of that country for the construction of railroads, from which he realized a profit of $1,500< 000. This gained for him the reputation of being the greatest railway-contractor in South America, and he next undertook the building of six railroads in Peru, of which three were completed and the remainder were in course of construction at the time of his death. Of these the Callao, Lima, and Orova road ranks among the most daring achievements of modern engineering. It is a successful attempt to connect the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, by a railway across the Andes, from Callao to the head of navigation on the Amazon. The height ascended by this road is within 136 feet of that of the summit of Mont Blanc. The road bends upon itself with sharp angles as it ascends the mountains, and pierces the obstructing peaks with thirty-two tunnels, which often come together so closely that they seem continuous to the traveller. Great gorges had to be traversed and torrent streams spanned by bridges that seemed to hang in midair. In several places the mountain-sides were so precipitous that the workmen could only reach the point at which a tunnel started by being let down with ropes from the edge of the cliff and held there until they had cut for themselves a foot-hold in the rock. [['he diamond-drill was used in many of the borings where the rocks were hard enough to scratch glass. One of the bridges, over a chasm 2,000 feet deep, leads to a tunnel at either end. The difficulties of the work were increased by the necessity of transporting all the implements, materials, and workmen up to these almost inaccessible heights. Before Mr. Meiggs's death the greater part of the work was completed and in running or-def. When the Peruvian government was unable to assist him, Mr. Meiggs sacrificed his own private means rather than allow the enterprise to fail. One of the public works that he undertook in Peru was the improvement of, the environs of Lima. The city was surrounded by a rampart of filth and rubbish, the accumulated refuse of many generations. Mr. Meiggs replaced this by a park more than seven miles in length, and he provided for his own fortune by securing and afterward selling the adjoining property for building purposes. His success in South America made it possible for him to meet all of his former obligations, and those in California he paid in full with interest. The legislature of that state ultimately passed an act relieving him of all penalties on account of his connection with the over-issued bonds of San Francisco. He was a frequent contributor of funds to charities in the United States.
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